Today, we’re looking at Chechnya’s tumultuous history with Russia and what the future might hold. After two wars, a few decades of nominal Russian control and ruthless leadership, the tides might be turning for Chechnya.
That ruthless leader I mentioned, Ramzan Kadyrov, hasn’t quite set the Chechens up for success. However, as his health comes into question, so does the future of Russia’s role in Chechnya.
If Kadyrov kicks it, several complications arise for the Russians. There’s no succession plan, the flow of information could be cut off, regional allegiances could shift, and with the ongoing war in Ukraine…things could get spicy.
While it may seem like all of this is contingent upon Kadyrov’s death, most of it is inevitable. Sure, Kadyrov could help speed things along, but Chechnya (and this region as a whole) has plenty of dynamism and volatility in its future.
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Hey everybody. Peter Zeihan coming to you from Colorado. We’re doing the next in kind of an open ended series on the Russian positions throughout the former. Soviet world and how they’re disintegrating and what that can mean. We’re talking about Chechnya today now. Chechnya is a little statelet, a republic of the Russian Federation that tried to break away back in the 1990s when the Soviet system collapsed.
There were two major wars. In the first one, the Russians were soundly and embarrassingly defeated and in the second one, the Russians were able to split the Chechens into groups and allied with one of the more powerful factions. And in doing so, reassert nominal Russian control. Emphasis on the word nominal. Basically, the Russians provided this one group with troops and equipment and intelligence and money and combined with the Russian forces, they were able to defeat the others.
Part of the terms of the deal were was, though, that the Russians pretty much had to leave. And so the Russians still lost control of Chechnya. But at least nominally, this faction does adhere to what Putin says he wants to do, even though, for all intents and purposes, this faction is independent. Now that faction is run by the Kadyrov, claim a courier off.
The father was killed in an assassination attempt back. And I want to say 2000 2000 won. And his son Ramzan is, I think the most clinical way I can put it is an absolute fucking psychopath. Tortures people, murders people, runs the place in a reign of terror. Definitely not the kind of guy that you want to meet under any circumstances, or preferably even read about if you have an option anyway.
Kadeer off the junior has become part of the political support system for the entirety of the Putin regime across Russia, where he engages in a lot of intimidation, provides shock troops for, say, things like in Ukraine and does a considerable amount of what work, which is, you know, a fancy name for assassinating people that Putin doesn’t like. Now, the news that has come out over the last few days is that there’s something wrong with Rahm’s health.
Now, he has released a video as of the 21st of September showing that he’s clearly alive. And so whether there’s anything true to the rumors, I have no idea what I can tell you, that the situation where could here if JR is in league with the Russians is of limited duration and a lot more fragile than people think.
Remember, he’s basically being paid in men and equipment and intelligence and of course, cash to be on the Russian side. So if something happens to those fellows, his loyalty is, you know, available to the highest bidder. Also, he is the leader of one faction, a powerful faction. Yes, but only one in Chechen society. So if you had a change in circumstances, it’s easy to see that you can have a power struggle erupt in this area very, very, very, very quickly.
And who knows how that would shake out. And it’s perfectly reasonable to think that this would descend into a bit of a civil war among the Chechens themselves, because there are Chechens in Ukraine fighting against the Putin government and the Chechen shock troops that Kadyrov has brought in. I mean, this is not a unified polity by any stretch of the imagination.
So there are kind of four things you have to keep in mind here, that if something were to happen to Kadyrov, that we would see a lot more instability and especially incapacity for the Russians to maintain the position. The first is that there’s no second in charge in Chechnya. It’s just Ramzan himself, his sons. The oldest one is 17.
They’re certainly in no position to take over. And it’s not like they were raised in the rebellion. They were all born after the war ended. They were have been raised in the lap of luxury. And they have very active Instagram accounts. They’re social media stars among Russian nationalists and Chechens. But it’s very clear that it’s all airbrushed. And these are not people who have actually had to do any real fighting.
Could they rise to the occasion if their father was just to disappear? Maybe. But there would be plenty of others who would also try. And that’s the whole point would end in a struggle. Number two, it’s not clear that this the group of Chechens that are working for the Russian government are easily replaceable. One of the things we’ve learned throughout all of the conflicts in Ukraine with first the Orange Revolution and then the made in protests and then the 2014 war in Crimea.
Now, most recently, the 2022 war in Ukraine is that Russian intelligence authorities are not nearly as competent as they used to be. Most of the good ones went off in the 1990 and early 2000s and kind of got into business and got into crime themselves and haven’t come home. So Putin is really relying upon Kadyrov clan to do a lot of the work that used to be done by kind of the dirty hands of some aspects of the intelligence bureaus.
And if that were to vanish or, God forbid, turn on Putin, it’s not clear that it would go really well. Third, there’s more going on with the Chechens who are working for Putin than just the stuff within Russia and Ukraine. The Chechens have their fingers in a number of other frozen conflicts in the region, in the Caucasus, most notably a trio of regions within the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, which has often found itself on the receiving end of Russian violence.
There’s a Chechen enclave in a place called the Pankisi Gorge, which is just north of Tbilisi. That kind of is a de facto independent zone. And then there are two zones, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where the Russians actually have regular troops there. And they’re physically maintaining the independence, really occupied nature under Russian control from the Georgian authorities. And if the Chechens were to flip and just go neutral in those positions, it’s not clear with the Russians being as distracted as they are by Ukraine whether or not these areas could continue to be functionally independent.
And the Georgians, of course, would love to take those territories back and then fourth and most importantly, one way or another, we’re probably going to see a reckoning here in terms of strategic control. If the Ukrainians are even marginally successful at resisting the Russians, eventually some aspects of this war are going to get to the city of Rostov on Don in southwestern Russia.
And Rostov is the primary launching point for Russian forces operating in eastern Ukraine. And it is the only launching point for Russian forces operating in the Crimean peninsula itself. And if it becomes constrained, that is what the Ukrainians need if they’re going to ever win this war. But Rostov does more than just serve as a launching point for Russian operations in Ukraine.
It’s also the primary launching off point for Russian operations throughout the entire Caucasus, including in Chechnya. So even if Kadyrov remains loyal, any even moderate success by the Ukrainians is going to impinge upon the Russians ability to influence the Caucasus at all. And then Kadyrov, when it becomes clear that the weapon and the men and the money might not be coming in the same value, he is going to have to make some decisions on his own.
And if even as he sticks where he is, other groups throughout the Caucasus, the Azerbaijanis, the Georgians, other Chechen groups, the Dagestan, he’s it’s the long list are going to start looking at the change in circumstances when the Russians simply can’t project power in force to the Caucasus region. And when that happens, the Russians will be dealing with a multi-front series of rebellions and wars that they really have proven.
They don’t have the logistics and the manpower to deal with. So Kadyrov is clearly important and his health, his survivability, his political standing, where he sides with this faction, that matters greatly. But if you step back and look at where this is going from a big picture point of view. Kadyrov’s Change of heart or change of health could only speed things up.
A lot of this stuff is inevitable. A lot of this stuff has to happen anyway. It’s just Kadyrov could make it happen tomorrow instead of three years from now.